personal

On 2016

As 2016 winds to a close, a common refrain on the Internet has been to blame the year for all of our misfortune.  John Oliver even did a bit on how terrible this year was.  And it was a bad year.  Any year in which Donald Trump is elected President is automatically a bad year.  And that’s before you take into account horrible events that happened around the world.

But then 2016 became the refrain any time a beloved celebrity died.  To be fair, we definitely lost some heavyweights this year.  And people should absolutely be allowed to mourn the loss of the artists who enriched their lives.  But to rail against a calendar year as if it were cursed is just ridiculous, and it’s a little dangerous.

This notion that years are acting for us or against us helps to create a narrative and a common antagonist, but it’s the wrong antagonist and the wrong narrative because where does it end?  I have some bad news: more celebrities are probably going to die in 2017.  And in 2018.  And so on and so forth.  An actor or musician or someone who you’ve never met but greatly influenced your life is going to die at some point.  Rather than respecting them as an individual who lives and dies like everyone else is more important than railing against a year.

Some people did have truly bad 2016s, but I’m willing to be those people suffered personal losses of some kind.  And here’s the thing: personal losses can happen in any year.  We hope that they don’t and we do our best to avoid them, but sometimes there’s nothing to be done, and tweeting “Because 2016″ doesn’t make anything better.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t work to make 2017 better than 2016.  You absolutely should.  Don’t accept that resolutions were made to be broken.  Find a path to improving your life and work on it.  That’s something you can control.  That’s something where, if you’ve worked hard, you can look back at the end of 2017 and be proud of your accomplishment.  But if your metric of a year’s success is something you can’t control–like, say, which celebrities live and die–then you’re probably going to be futilely tweeting, “Screw you, 2017,” as if the universe cares about your feelings.

2016 was rough.  Don’t want 2017 to be the same?  Recognize the things that are out of your control and fight like hell to make a difference where you can.

Friday, December 30th, 2016 personal No Comments

In Memory of Robin Williams

I’ve become a fan of many actors and actresses over the years, but Robin Williams was the first.

Williams was moving into a new stage in his career when I became a fan, but I didn’t know that.  I knew him as Mork from Ork because Mork & Mindy played on Nick at Nite at 8:30pm, and I was allowed to stay up that late.  And then I knew him from Mrs. Doubtfire and the voice of Genie and then Peter Pan.  He was making movies for my demographic, and he was making me laugh.  I didn’t know about his stand-up comedy or the rainbow suspenders or his drug addiction or his Oscar nominations or that he had more hair than a werewolf.  He was warm and funny and willing to be goofy.  He was a live-action cartoon but never felt false.

Then I got older, and naturally that came with being more critical.  Not everything Robin Williams did was genius.  He followed his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting with a string of cloying pictures that all flopped.  He was trying too hard.  And then he took his career in a new direction by being dark.  And then he became harder to pin down.  He moved to supporting roles or family comedies and played a string of forgettable parts except for one.

There are many powerful performances in Williams’ career.  Ranking them would be a disservice and a fruitless endeavor.  But when I learned of his death earlier tonight, and after the initial shock followed by the deep sorrow–a sorrow I feel now and one that compels me to write this–I started thinking of his performances, and the one that rushed to the front of my mind was World’s Greatest Dad.

Being the critical snob that I am, I had managed to pigeonhole Robbins’ career, file it away, and be proud of myself that I had so quickly summed up his talents and abilities.  He was no longer my idol; he was my subject.  And in my summation, he was an actor who was at his best when he thought no one was watching.  Sure, he had inspired people with touchy-feely stuff, but FUCK THAT.  That’s not serious.  No, he was a real actor when he was in World’s Greatest Dad because he knew it would never go mainstream.  He was free and in that freedom he gave a performance that tapped into his biting comedy and his raw emotions like no other picture.

Of course, I was (and am) an idiot.  I just watched The Fisher King for the first time tonight, and I see the same kind of amazing performance.  It’s incredibly funny and painfully moving.  I thought I had outgrown Robin Williams, and it turns out I still don’t know shit.

I’m not going to pretend he was the greatest actor of his generation of every one of his films was a gem, and as World’s Greatest Dad teaches us, honesty is a greater virtue than cloying sentiment.  Emotions have to be earned, not manufactured.  Time and again, Williams earned those emotions, and I’m sorry I wrote him off.  And I’m even sorrier that I’ll never have the opportunity to tell him how much his comedy influenced me and what it meant to me.

He meant so much to millions of people, and yet it appears that his depression was  so overwhelming that he couldn’t recognize such widespread acclaim.  If you need proof that depression is a disease, look no further.  Robin Williams was revered worldwide by millions of fans not to mention loved by family and friends.  Depression doesn’t care.  What’s most insidious about depression is that it puts you in a box where everything beautiful disappears, and all that remains is despair.

And I’m sure there will be those who suffer from depression, and as that depression sinks its fangs in deeper, it will distort reality and cause the victim to say,  “Robin Williams was loved by millions and a huge success!  If he can’t survive depression, what hope do I have?”  That’s what depression does.  It changes reality to where everything is inescapable pain and suffering.

I’m so sorry Williams saw no escape.  I’m even sorrier for those closest to him.  My pain seems trivial in comparison to those who lost a man who, by all the anecdotes I’m reading, was a lovely human being.  Perhaps he felt their lives would be better off without him or that even the world would be better off without him.  They’re not.  We’re not.  We miss you terribly, Mr. Williams.

If you suffer from depression, please, please, please find help.  Don’t be ashamed to tell your loved ones.  They love you and they want to help you.  If you feel uncomfortable talking to them, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.  Even if you’re not feeling suicidal, they will still talk to you.  They want to help you.  And for the long haul, please find a doctor.  It may take time to find the right medication, but once you find it, it will make you feel better.

I don’t have all the answers, but I swear to you there are answers.  Suicide is never one of them.

 

Monday, August 11th, 2014 movies, personal No Comments

Bracing Myself

Today, I got my braces off. The total amount of time I’ve worn braces in my life amounts to about 6 1/2 years.

Plenty of kids get braces.  It’s almost a right of passage.  Your baby teeth fall out, you accrue $20-$100 depending on the Tooth Fairy’s generosity (and her inability to determine the fair market value of teeth), and the new chompers come in crooked.  But not to worry!  Someone is going to jam metal in your mouth (and maybe even outside your mouth if you were sentenced to wear headgear and be a social pariah) and give you a nice smile at the end.  People who have perfect smiles are 78% more likely to have rich, fulfilling lives according to a stat I just made up.

While nice smiles are all well and good, orthodontics can also correct real medical issues.  That’s why I needed them.

But back on September 10, 1997, I didn’t know that.  Other things I didn’t know: my hair would fall out; my Magic: The Gathering cards would never gain value; and Third Eye Blind is not a good band.  On September 10, 1997, I was a plucky kid who was ready to get my braces on because that’s what kids do.  They get the braces, they get the straight teeth, then they get the money, then they get the power, then they get the women.

Photo Apr 01, 9 31 46 AM

My orthodontist at the time was Dr. Bougas, pronounced, “Boug-hass”.  But to a 13-year-old kid, it was funny to call him “Dr. Bogus” because I’m sure he had never been subject to that mispronunciation in his life.  I was hitting comic gold.

I assume there must be a medical code of ethics where you’re supposed to inform the patient as quickly as possible that that their lower jaw is still growing and the braces have been put on too early.  I have complete certainty that Dr. Bougas was 100% ethical, and that these things just happen.  But somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ll always wonder…”Did you really want to lob petty insults at the person handling your medical care?”  To put it another way: Were I in his position, I would have said, “That’ll teach the little bastard.”  We can all be grateful I did not go into the medical profession.

On February 2, 2000 the braces come off.  There are retainers and plastic mouthguards, but neither can fend off the inevitable.   My lower jaw is still growing, the teeth are still moving, 2 1/2 years down the drain.

Photo Apr 01, 9 29 44 AM

We cut ahead to August 23, 2004.  I’m now a college student, and as you can see by the picture below, a college student who has discovered a potent combination of fast food and sadness (also, I swear to God I am not high in the photo).  But the jaw has finished growing, the underbite is in full effect, and now it’s time to correct the bite.  The key is surgery.  The braces go on, the surgery happens, the braces stay on, and voila!  Straight teeth (I may have glossed over the amount of technical precision and medical knowledge involved in this process).

Photo Apr 01, 9 30 10 AM

My orthodontist is now Dr. Mary Lynn Crews.  Allow me to take a moment to say that Dr. Crews is one of the nicest people I have ever met.  There are plenty of friendly doctors, but Dr. Crews is like sunshine in human form.  If more people were like Dr. Crews, the world would be a better place.  I honestly believe that.  Also, more people would have great smiles.

So we have a gameplan: braces go on, surgery happens, braces come off, life is better.  And it will all work out because while oral surgery is expensive, my family has medical insurance.  As all know, medical insurers have never dicked over anyone.  They are above reproach.

As we start coming to the oral surgery, we finally meet with the oral surgeon (Dr. Crews provided the referral).  For this story, he shall go nameless, but it seems like all is well.  He approves of Dr. Crews’ work, and surgery is a go…until it isn’t.

The insurance company said they were going to pay for it and then they said, “Yeah, we’re not going to pay for it.  We said we would, but now we’re not, because we’re insurance, and we hate you.  Thanks for paying for your braces.  Again.  Money well spent.”

The braces stay on to do what they can, but it’s futile.  They can only do so much, and they come off on January 3, 2007.  And this is where I get the warning.  Yes, it’s possible that the lack of surgery may not have any long term repercussions.  However, it’s also possible that later in life it may cause serious medical problems.

Photo Apr 01, 9 30 33 AM

In 2011, I’m at the gym.  I’m on the arc trainer, doing my morning work out, and I feel a strain in the side of my neck.  It’s weird because I don’t lift weights or do anything that would cause that kind of strain.  The only thing I could do would be talking with my crooked underbite that turns out to be pulling on a rope of muscle.  Now the “repercussion” is happening, and while it’s not intense or incredibly painful, I fear it’s a harbinger of those serious medical problems.

Since I have no plans to cease talking (I quite enjoy it and everything I say is deep and insightful), the braces need to happen.  We need to take this to the end of the line.  I have new insurance.  And this time I have a plan (cue action movie score).  I figure that the problem last time was that the oral surgeon wasn’t involved from the beginning, so that when the insurance came around to double check, he was somewhat indifferent.  I had only met with him once, so there was no real reason or even much independent evidence to back up my case.  This is conjecture, but I believe he was the weak link.

Now I go to Dr. Bankston because he’s on my insurance plan.  He’s also super nice (not as nice as Dr. Crews, but few are; again—sunshine in human form), and after doing his own measurements, he concurs that surgery is medically necessary and not purely cosmetic.

But there’s a twist because with insurance companies there’s always a twist.  They’re like the M. Night Shyamalan of businesses.  In order to show how serious I am about getting the surgery, I need to put the braces on before the surgery is approved.  That’s like saying, “I’m going to jump off this building and then you’ll see how serious I am about that net.”  But I need to jump, and unlike the last two times, I’m putting my own money on the table.  My parents are still contributing to the monthly payments, but now I’m paying for it too.

For those who were lucky enough to never need braces: don’t share this fact with anyone.  No one wants to hear it.  However, you may be wondering, “What’s it like to get braces?  What fun did I miss out on?”

First, I am surprised at both the advancements and stagnations in the field of orthodontics.  For example, before I even got my braces on, I was offered a choice between metal ones which were less likely to break and more likely to work faster, and clear plastic brackets, which weren’t as good but were also slightly less noticeable.

I chose good, old-fashioned metal because there’s no hiding you’re an adult with braces.  No one is going to do a double-take when there’s a metal wire across your teeth.  There’s also no forgetting you have braces.  Every time you show up in that office, you’re well aware you’re the only patient in the room who doesn’t need a slip explaining why you were absent from social studies.

You’re also aware of how much time has passed and how far technology has come in only 15 years.  Dr. Crews took over the office from Dr. Bougas, so I’d been going to the same building since 1997.  There were no major renovations.  The office never felt dated even though it didn’t really change.  But where 13-year-old me had to wait patiently and observe the world, 27-year-old me could use a tiny computer to quickly access the Internet.  It didn’t make me feel old as much as it made me remember that we live in the future, and perhaps we should be slightly more patient when waiting for webpages to load.

With this kind of remarkable advancement in technology, surely orthodontics had followed suit.  How had we only come as far as plastic brackets (Invisaline wouldn’t have worked for me)?  We now had lasers to fix people’s eyes; where were the lasers to fix our teeth?  I live in the 21st century, and I demand laser teeth.  Unfortunately, laser teeth technology is still a pipe dream (in only my pipes and only my dreams), so we’re back to the old ways.  The metal ways.

But before I can get to the metal, I have to explain “spacers”.  If you ever had braces, you probably know about spacers, which are the most painful part of the procedure (assuming you don’t have surgery).  Here’s the thinking behind spacers: “Your teeth are fucked up, but we need to fuck them up a little more in order to fix them.”  (I know orthodontists don’t talk like this; orthodontists should talk like this; cursing makes you coooool) Tiny bits of plastics are jammed between your teeth to make space for the metal bands that will encircle those teeth.  You won’t be able to eat anything for about five days because it will be incredibly painful.  Welcome to braces!

Once they’re done with the spacers, the braces go on.  The third and final go-round for me began on April 11, 2012.  Metal bands are placed around the back teeth (this time, the orthodontic procedure began after I’d had my wisdom teeth removed by Dr. Bankston), brackets are cemented on to the teeth, and then they’re all connected with a wire that will be tightened in order to move the teeth closer together.  I find it fascinating to think that some engineering and medical genius figured out that this would straighten people’s teeth.  I also applaud the enterprising patients who overcame their horror at having this done to them.

When you get your braces on, you’re given a list of foods you can’t eat.  This list greatly upset me when I was 13, but over the years, I learned it was more like guidelines.  For instance, the list says that toasted bagels are forbidden.  I assume this landed on the list because some idiot kid bit into a burnt-to-a-crisp, stale-as-hell everything bagel and broke all his brackets and got seeds stuck inside his bands.  Potato chips are also not allowed, and again, I’m sure somewhere down the line some patient messed up his orthodontics, blamed a bag of Doritos, and on the list it went.

After having braces for over six years, I will now tell you the foods that you really should not eat:

  • Popcorn: Popcorn is dangerous because if one kernel slips behind your metal band, you’re going to be in a lot of pain, and there’s no way to get it out until the orthodontist can take off the band.
  • Chewing Gum: Technically not a food, but you can’t have it.  Chewing gum will get wrapped around your braces.
  • Starbursts, Now and Laters, Taffy: They’re chewy enough to possibly pull off a bracket.  However, gummi snacks like Sour Patch Kids are not.  This demands a scientific study regarding candy elasticity.

And then there are foods you’d just be dumb to eat like uncut apples and corn-on-the-cob.  You can do it, and then you can employ this bad-boy for the next half-hour:

cleaner

It’s a tiny pipe cleaner and you’ll need it no matter what.  Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever needing one until my third time with braces.  But whether you’re eating bread, chicken, fish, or pretty much anything, you need the pipe cleaner and/or some serious tongue maneuvering/skillful suction.  It’s not anywhere close to as sexy as it sounds and it didn’t sound that sexy to begin with.  Yeah, it’s kind of gross.  Read on to hear about my surgery!

Photo Apr 01, 9 31 09 AM

15 days before surgery

Dr. Bankston does his due diligence, takes tons of photos and x-rays, submits them to the insurance company, they sign off, and we’re a go for April 19, 2013.  To this point, I had never had surgery.  I had never broken a bone or needed stitches.  While I would agree that I’m very lucky, I would also point out that one’s risk of injury significantly decreases when you stay indoors and sit on a couch or at a computer (safety first, kids!).  Now I would be getting stitches and a broken bone as an incision would be made high on my upper gums (you can’t even see the scar today) and my upper jaw would be moved forward.

Following the surgery, I had to stay in the hospital overnight with a bag of ice around my face, and then I spent about ten days recovering by staying bed, popping an occasional painkiller, eating pudding, and watching movies.  How I ever made it through this ordeal, I’ll never know.

Then I had to wear a splint for about a month on my upper teeth, which prevented me from eating anything but soft foods, which gets very old, very quickly.  I have come to despise oatmeal.  However, pudding is still great.  I lost ten pounds on the pudding diet! (I eventually gained it back)

Photo Apr 01, 9 31 15 AM

Post-surgery and post-splint

When the splint did come off, my time with Dr. Bankston came to a close, and I was incredibly grateful for his terrific work (it also helped that he and Dr. Crews had worked together in the past, so there was almost no miscommunication or friction when it came to coordinating their work).  The only strange thing about Dr. Bankston was that all the assistants seemed to refer to the patients as “sweetie”.  It’s like when you go to Chick-fil-A and they say “My pleasure,” when you say, “Thank you.”  It’s clearly a policy, but when an assistant who can’t be more than five years older than me calls me “sweetie” like she’s my grandmother, it’s weird.  Not off-putting; just weird.

We then continued with the uneventful procedure of finishing up the orthodontics, and here I am with straight teeth, the ability to keep talking, and a newfound, lifelong fear of being punched in the mouth.

If you read all of this, thanks!  It probably wasn’t the most entertaining read, but getting braces was a big part of my life, and I felt I need to document and share it.  It was also my way of saying thanks to my parents who financially and emotionally supported me, and also to the practice of Dr. Mary Lynn Crews.  Not only is Dr. Crews great, but so is everyone who works at her practice.  If you or anyone you know ever needs orthodontics, go see her.  It will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

And while I’m not big on selfies, I figure this is one worth sharing:

no-braces

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 personal No Comments

Time to Get out of the Sports Game?

After a one-two punch of the Falcons losing a close game on Monday Night Football and the Braves being eliminated after the normally reliable David Carpenter gave up the lead in the 8th inning, I’m wondering if it’s time for me to stop being a sports fan.

I know that’s awfully fair-weather of me, and that my attitude is why Atlanta is such a shitty sports town.  But at the same time, these are kind of shitty sports teams because they’re bad at the worst possible moments.  They don’t consistently suck.  I assume fans with consistently crappy teams just accept them as lovable losers, or get a nice pick-me-up if their team should happen to win.  Atlantans aren’t so lucky.  The Braves and the Falcons have to give the illusion that they could go all the way.  They have to give the illusion of a dramatic victory.  And then they lose in a spectacular fashion.  They lose on the most public stage possible, and the Atlanta fans get crushed.

The teams have been especially vindictive this year.  The Braves won the division title for the first time since 2005.  I had hope that a younger team might not have the baggage of older Braves teams that could never get past the first round of the playoffs.  I was wrong.  They were just as terrible.  It would be nice to think that they’ll mature into a serious ball club, but that’s not going to happen.  Something breaks in the Atlanta Braves when October comes around.  And as for the Falcons, their weaknesses have emerged.  After years of scraping by with thrilling victories, they’re now on the losing side and proving all their detractors right.

Detractors have plenty to crow about, and they’re not wrong.  But as I tweeted both games tonight, I didn’t like myself.  I felt like an absolute bastard who was clogging up people’s Twitter feeds with my negativity.  A good sports fan is never resigned to failure.  They hold on to hope until the last possible minute.  They’re indefatigable.  I thought I was a good sports fan, but I was wrong.  And if I’m going to behave like I did tonight, then I shouldn’t get to call myself a Braves fan or a Falcons fan.  I’m a spectator.  I can cheer, and I can boo, but I can’t say I’m a fan.  I’m as much to blame as the teams I’ve failed to support.

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 personal, sports, stupid No Comments

I Suck at Shuffling Cards.

I know how dorky this looks.  I swear I wasn’t trying to look cool.  It’s just that everything looks cool when you slow it down to 2500 frames-per-second.  Now I know why Zack Snyder uses it ALL THE DAMN TIME.

Friday, September 28th, 2012 humor, personal, stupid No Comments

I’m Positive I’m Not Negative

I’m going to put this to bed once and for all:

I’m not a negative person.

That seems to have become my reputation.  I know part of that comes from what I say about upcoming movies and my comments on trailers, posters, and other aspects of a marketing campaign.  My coverage of movie news is part-mockery and part-criticism.  I can’t go back through every single news story I wrote in 2011, but people get defensive over minor things.  The trailer for The Dark Knight Rises didn’t change my life and I made fun of the collapsing football field because it’s funny.  I don’t think the movie will be bad.  It’s a criticism of a trailer that shows a football player who doesn’t realize that everyone behind him has fallen into a pit and died.  Also, the quake ended when he scored a touchdown, so it worked out well.

But I also get excited by good trailers.  I do a Top 10 list at the end of the year to prove it.  And most importantly, I don’t let any piece of marketing lock in my opinion.  Marketing on major movies is a non-stop assault, and I can’t avoid it, but I can try to stay objective before being subjective.

However, I can go back through my reviews and try to empirically prove that I’m not negative.  I’ve come to the point where I almost want to stop using a letter grade.  The reason I keep using them is because hopefully it will serve as a hook.  Readers will scroll down to the bottom, see the letter grade, and then read the review to see why I gave that grade.  Sadly, the rating tends to dominates the content.  We’re in the Rotten Tomatoes age where people want to see a percentage and take that as the final word on the film’s quality.  Keep in mind that RT works on a binary-system.  A film is either “fresh” or “rotten”, so a B- has the same weight as an A+.  Even as a shorthand, Rotten Tomatoes is imprecise.

But since people are so fixated on grades, and then they want to turn around and say that I’m negative, I’ve provided the following chart, which breaks down how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs I gave out in 2011:

ratings-pie-chart

As you can see, the highest percentage of my reviews were either a B+, B, or B- (the exact number was 56).  “B” means “good”.  “A” means excellent.  I have seen enough movies to understand the difference.  Hollywood and even indie films don’t hit a grand slam every time they go to bat.  “A” is a high standard and when a movie meets that high standard, it should mean something.

The next highest percentage was “C”, which means “mediocre”.  I hate to say it, but there’s plenty of mediocrity in the world.  Not everyone is a superstar and a lot of movies just get by.  They’re forgettable or they’re a wasted opportunity.  I don’t hate these movies.  I just don’t get much out of them.

Perhaps this disconnect is that my critics want my film criticism to be “one higher”.  Cs should Bs, and Bs should be As.  But I demand more from my movies.  I see the flaws not because I’m “negative” but because criticism is my business and it’s my job to break down movies and see how they work and how they don’t.  I don’t “turn off my brain” nor would I want to.  It seems ungrateful considering it got me to where I am today.  I don’t like subjecting it to Sucker Punch, but we’re in it together.

There’s no agenda for me.  There are movies I look forward to and movies I dread, but I give them all a fair shake.  And if you don’t think I do, then look past the letter grade and read the actual review.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 criticism, movies, personal No Comments

Thanks!

Thanksgiving is the day to give thanks even though we should give thanks on a regular basis.  Of course, that can be a little exhausting so it’s good we have one day where we can just pencil in: Tell people what’s you’re thankful for.  And that’s what I’m going to do:

I am thankful for…

1) My family and friends.  Yeah, it’s super-sappy, but it’s true.  I’m so lucky to have a family where we’re actually not so dysfunctional.  It doesn’t make for humorous stories and other wacky cliches, but I wouldn’t trade my family for the world.  Seriously, if someone came to me and said “Save your family or the world,” I would reply, “Sorry, World.  It’s been fun.”  And as for my friends, I take friendship seriously.  I don’t care how many Facebook friends I have.  I care that the word “friend” actually means something and isn’t being mistaken for “acquaintance” or “person I met at a party one time and will never speak to again.”  If you’re on my “Friends” list on Facebook, I think you’re awesome.  End of story.

2) My job.  This year I was accepted into the Southeastern Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society.  I also attended the Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time. All these major steps in 2011 reminded me that I’ve been a professional film critic for five years.  It’s a little funny when I remember that I was ostracized from the Oberlin Film Society because I had the audacity to point out that maybe showing movies with only one projector so that there were breaks in between reels was not the ideal viewing experience. (The response I got was, “I think people like having the little intermissions.”)  But it’s still bizarre that I get to roll out of bed, go to my computer, and start writing about movies every day, and that I’ll get to see movies early and for free.  To quote Cypress Hill, “It’s a fun job but it’s still a job,” and I won’t lie and say I like everything about my work.  But in this economy, I’m grateful to have a job and I’m even more grateful that it’s a job that allows me to have fun, write about my passion, and engender the hatred of people I’ve never met because we disagree about a movie.

3) My life.  When I take a step back, I can see that the good in my life far outweighs the bad.  Things could always be better and I strive to make them so, but it’s still an amazing time if we recognize the difference between a hassle and a tragedy.  It’s a hassle when my phone can’t get service, but my phone is magic.  It’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the palm of my hand.  Any screenwriter will tell you that’s it’s a Deus ex Machina and it’s a pain to write around them (what will happen when all phones get great service from anywhere?)  At the current rate of technological development (i.e. Moore’s Law), think about where we’ll be in ten years (provided the machines don’t become sentient; assuming they do, let’s hope for an Iron Giant/Short Circuit co-existence).  I was very lucky to be born into this country and live during this time and while there’s plenty wrong with the world, today I’d like to appreciate what I have rather than look at everything I don’t.

4) Anyone who read all of this without groaning or rolling their eyes.

Thursday, November 24th, 2011 personal No Comments

Reviews: MONEYBALL, KILLER ELITE, and PUNCTURE; Plus a Personal Note

Moneyball (Rating: B)

Killer Elite (Rating: D)

Puncture (Rating: D)

On a related and personal note, I have now been working as a professional film critic for five years.  It’s kind of crazy when I stop to consider that I’ve been writing movie reviews since I was in high school, and that somehow after writing for Columns (the Galloway High School paper) and The Oberlin Review (Oberlin’s newspaper), I now get paid to write reviews and thousands of people read them.

Last week (and within a 24-hour time span), I was offered membership in OFCS (Online Film Critics Society) and SEFCA (Southeastern Film Critics Association).  It was a tremendous honor and it blows my mind a little to think that I’ll get to have my say in what both groups choose as their best film of the year and put my two cents into the awards’ race.  That’s not to say that we’re determining the Academy Award winner (last year almost every critics society chose The Social Network as best picture, but The King’s Speech took home the Oscar), but adding my voice to many lets me have a say.  It’s a tremendous honor to be accepted into not one but two critics organizations and it makes what I’ve been doing for five years feel a little more real.

Now if you’ll excuse me, someone in the comments section of my Puncture review “was not impressed by your scathing commentary and grading.”

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 criticism, movies, personal No Comments

Too Nerdy to Live

Most cool people will never understand this, but for nerdy folks myself, there comes a time when you take a step back and go, “There is no reason this should infuriate me.  I need to find real things to care about.”  Then you go back to being infuriated over inconsequential matters.

Example:  Here’s the trailer for the upcoming video game X-Men: Destiny:

Set aside for the moment that even after viewing this trailer I have no idea what kind of game X-Men Destiny is.  Is it an Action-RPG?  An arcade brawler like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance?  A mixture of both?  But that’s not what I find maddening.

It’s the stupid tagline at the end:

“Some Destinies are Chosen.”

No.  No, they’re not.  Destiny cannot be chosen.  That’s what makes it “destiny”.  It is the unavoidable endpoint and you have no say in how you get there.  That’s why “Destiny” and “Destination” share the same root.  Destiny negates choice.  It happens no matter what you do.  The game should be called X-Men: Choice or X-Men: Determination or X-Men: Experience-Based Leveling System for Character Customization.  Not X-Men: Destiny.

I just spent fifteen minutes of my life ranting about this.  That’s what sadness looks like.  NEVER FORGET.

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 personal, stupid, videogames No Comments

Ballkickers

I’ve never been super athletic.  Even before I put on a small-child’s worth of weight, I was never much of an athlete.  In little-league basketball, I was rarely (if ever) passed the ball and in baseball, I was put out in right field and battled last in the order so I could do the minimal amount of damage.  But at the end of a game, I still got a Capri Sun and a Kudos bar and at the end of the season, I got a cheap plastic trophy that was bought in bulk.  That’s the thrill of victory for an 11-year-old.

But I started doing sports again this year not because I wanted Capri Suns and Kudos bars (although they are delicious), but simply to hang out with people, get a little bit of exercise, and have fun on a Sunday afternoon.  My friend invited me to join his kickball team, I paid $65 to GoKickball, I got a hideous lime green t-shirt that I’ll only wear again when I don’t mind wearing something that will be ruined, and we were underway.

I had played kickball a couple years ago but our team wasn’t any good.  I don’t think we won a single game.  However, we still had fun, but winning is always more fun.  Well, a win that you earn is more fun.  For me, anyway.  Not for the captain of “Ballistic Ball Blasters”.

My team, the Steamerducks, had a great season.  I took pride in my minor accomplishments (I caught a fly ball!  I got on base!  I made a sacrifice RBI!), but our team had players that were masters of bunting, fielding, and kicking the bejeezus out of the ball.  Going into yesterday’s semi-final match, we had only lost once (to the undefeated champions, The Dirty South Crunkball All-Stars–more on them in a second) and a tie against the Ball Blasters.  The semifinals would function as a tie-breaker to see who would face the All-Stars in the championship match.

Because it’s a co-ed league, GoKickball requires that each team have at least four female players on a team.  Due to a miscommunication among our team, we only had three.  While the rules state that the opposing captain can demand a forfeiture, he can also accept a concession and let the game go as planned.  Since we only had three women, we offered the Ball Blasters’ captain the concession of only giving us two outs per inning instead of three.  He said no.  He wanted the forfeiture, but we could still play for “fun”.

And this was part of a pattern I’d seen from a couple other teams all year: taking this shit way too seriously.  It’s not that my team and I didn’t care.  We had a batting order and assigned field positions and one of the players even brought her own iPod boombox so we could have some hype music.  But it was all in good fun.  We played hard on the field and then went about our day.  Other teams…not so much.

The All-Stars were undefeated and it was clear they had picked over the rules to do so.  GoKickball makes the mistake of saying that the catcher can stand equal with home plate and then interfere with the kick to make the ball go foul, and since you can foul out, it basically breaks the game.  Why the catcher doesn’t have to stand behind the batter is beyond me, but the All-Stars found this loophole, put a gigantic guy as close to home plate as possible and then obscured the batter’s vision as the pitcher, who clearly had practiced throwing a wicked curve ball, rocketed the giant red rubber orb at the hapless batter.  They, along with another team, filmed the game and I can only pray they were doing it for the memories and not to study tape and improve their game.

Keep in mind: there are no scouts at these games.  No one is going pro in kickball.

But back to the Captain of the Ball Blasters.  He wouldn’t accept our offer.  More infuriating, he said he would have accepted it during the regular season, but “this is the tournament”, he explained.  If this guy had a hard-on for the rules all season, I could at least respect his decision.  I think it would be ditching the spirit of the rules for the letter, but at least it would be a consistent approach.  But no, he wanted the forfeit because this was the tournament and he wanted to give his team a guaranteed path to the championship round.  Not one they earned by beating an evenly matched team (our records were both 6-1-1) that was providing a pretty huge concession, but because he wanted his team to have a shot at a cheap plastic trophy and possibly some house cash at a local restaurant.  I would have been happy to win those prizes as well, but personally, I would want a championship that I earned with my team.

I’m not against people having a competitive attitude.  I’m obnoxiously competitive.  I can’t play movie trivia with anyone any more because I’m a sore winner and I can’t play first-person shooters with people because I’m a sore loser.  But this wasn’t competition.  This was a guy who wanted an unearned victory rather than trust that his team could make it to the championship based on their own merits.

After much discussion among our team, we decided that since some folks had driven pretty far to come to the game, we would simply play “for fun.”

And then we beat them 5-2.

So the captain of the Ballistic Ball Blasters was right: he did need the forfeiture to make it to the championship and making sure he knew that was incredibly fun.

Monday, May 9th, 2011 personal No Comments
 
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